Judge rules Canadian boy must have chemotherapy despite religious beliefs


Nando Media/March 18, 1999
By David Crary

Toronto -- A cancer-stricken 13-year-old boy must undergo chemotherapy and possibly have his leg amputated against his wishes and those of his deeply religious parents, a Canadian judge ruled Thursday.

The case has sparked debate about the rights of parents and their children, and the responsibilities of the state, in deciding on appropriate medical treatment for minors.

The boy, Tyrell Dueck, had sought to halt his chemotherapy treatments for bone cancer and instead pursue alternative therapies such as vitamin and mineral injections, coupled with prayer.

However, Judge Allison Rothery, after a series of hearings in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, said Tyrell's views were based on misinformation provided by his father, Tim Dueck.

The judge said the father had screened the medical information reaching his son, and as a result Tyrell incorrectly believed that the alternative therapies available in Mexico had a 90 percent success rate.

"Tyrell has been misguided by his father into placing his hopes for recovery on a cure that does not exist," Rothery said. "This is simply cruel to Tyrell."

According to doctors who testified at the hearings, Tyrell will likely die within a year if his chemotherapy treatment is discontinued. The doctors said he had a 65 percent chance of recovery if he resumes the chemotherapy program and has his leg amputated above the knee.

Rothery ruled that Tyrell should remain with his parents, but that his medical treatment would be overseen by Saskatchewan's Social Services Department.

During the hearings, a psychiatrist testified that Tyrell had the emotional and intellectual capacity to make his own decision about treatment, but did not possess enough accurate information to make an objective choice.

The psychiatrist, Dr. Donald Duncan, said the Duecks have a "fundamentalist, faith-healing" view of the world, and place great trust in the power of prayer.

Rothery ordered that the parents not be present for further sessions of Tyrell's treatment.

"He is a boy deeply under the influence of his father," she said. "The information that his father gives to him is wrong and could place the child in medical peril."

Saskatchewan law allows the government to intervene when a child under 16 requires urgent medical treatment that their parents oppose. But there have been few previous cases anywhere in Canada where a relatively mature child joins the parents in refusing the treatment.

The lawyer for his parents, Owen Griffiths, said the family is considering an appeal.

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